Multiple Sclerosis, often referred to as MS, is classified as a demyelinating disease of the central nervous system. Currently, it is not known what causes this condition to develop, but it is thought to be an autoimmune response. The myelin sheaths of the brain and spinal cord are attacked by the immune system, leaving behind plaques. These plaques show up as lesions on an MRI scan and make it difficult for the nerves to properly transmit signals, causing an array of debilitating symptoms.
Those who are diagnosed with MS will experience a multitude of symptoms. Some are sensory in nature, while others affect mobility. Patients may have numbness or tingling in different places of the body. Burning sensations are also frequently reported. Lesions on the optic nerve may cause a loss of central vision or blindness, a condition known as optic neuritis. For those who have lesions in the spinal column, weakness in the limbs is very common.
There are different classifications of multiple sclerosis. Most people are first diagnosed with a relapsing-remitting form of the disease. At this stage, patients will experience a sudden appearance in new or old symptoms, which eventually subside. They will also have periods of remission. A progressive form is also common. Those with this type never have clear relapses, but instead a steady worsening of symptoms over time. Most people are upgraded to a secondary-progressive stage after about 10 years after diagnosis.
The FDA has approved several disease-modifying therapies for those suffering with the disease. Most of these drugs give a 30% reduction in relapses; however, they do not work effectively on all patients. During a clinical relapse, a physician may choose to administer a course of IV-steroids, which help reduce active inflammation in the body.
The cause of MS is unknown. Multiple sclerosis afflicts women more frequently than men, and it is usually diagnosed in young adults. The prognosis varies from person to person, but starting a disease-modifying treatment right away may reduce disability in the future.